Where oh where to begin?! I guess I’ll start with my most recent project that I completed. The International School of Dakar came down to Palmarin for a week long science field trip and we had a blast. My role in the project was basically to serve as the trip organizer/tour guide. I planned out everything from where they were staying, to their activities, to every meal that they ate. In total there were 16 kids, 3 Peace Corps volunteers, 2 teachers from the school and one school counselor. I was expecting 16 spoiled American brats and I was absolutely proven wrong. These kids were from all over the world and had parents working in very prestigious positions (helloooo Mr. Ambassador). They were respectful, open-minded and eager to learn. There is a certain naivety with kids who are raised in the international world. They are much more dependent on their parents and therefore they respect them more. These kids were 15-16 years old and still had their innocence, imagine that! Kids that age in America are often times incredibly disrespectful, are beginning to get into things that they shouldn't and think they have to grow up much quicker than they should. There is certainly something to be said for kids raised this way and, if I have the opportunity, I would love for my kids to be raised with that worldly perspective.
The week consisted of fish dissections, star-gazing, visiting an African market, hearing from a local historian, hyena watching (we didn’t see one but did see an amazing sunset), soccer games, swimming, kayaking, walks through the mangroves, fishing, and eating in local villagers’ homes. The goals of the trip were to encourage interaction between the students and local Senegalese, to give back to the community of Palmarin and also to learn some scientific stuff along the way. The project was a success in every aspect. I found myself feeling nostalgic for the good old days of school. I am a huge nerd and actually love to learn so I was right there in the circle of kids whenever one of the teachers had something interesting to tell us. I’m really looking forward to planning the trip next year and further fostering a relationship with the school.
Shortly after sending the kids off, it was time for the Peace Corps All-Volunteer Conference. This doesn’t just mean volunteers from all sectors in Senegal but also Peace Corps volunteers from all over West Africa. We had two days chalk full of informative sessions, project ideas and good times. Some of my favorite sessions had to be learning how to properly execute a mangroves reforestation, the components needed to start a school garden and also a whole new youth entrepreneurship program. After the work, a different kind of fun began. Friday night kicked off with volunteers showcasing their skills. We had someone joggling (jogging + juggling), a few guitarists, singers and even a dance troupe that included yours truly. You see, there is kind of a bias against CED (my program) volunteers. No one thinks that we know how to have any fun because we are typically more uptight, type-A personality people. We definitely proved that opinion wrong by dancing to a mash-up that included MC Hammer, Beyonce, Mackelmore, Vanilla Ice and more. We only had two days to choreograph our moves and it was still a raging success. I don’t even know how many people came up to me and told me how much more respect they had for not only me but the CED program.
The next day was the kick-off for two days of WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament). In previous years this tournament involved Peace Corps volunteers from all over West Africa playing softball games against US Marines, US Embassy employees, NGO employees and other expatriates living in Senegal. This year the Peace Corps was given our own field to just play against each other. The reason for this being that most volunteers use this time together as more of a social event rather than a serious competition. Most of us tend to prefer having a beer in our softball mitt and running around dressed up in costumes (my region dressed as Greek Gods/Goddesses and other regions were super heroes/super villains, geriatrics, pre-historic era and high school stereotypes) rather than having an intense game. We had too much fun. Some highlights of the games included one player sitting on the shoulders of another while pitching the ball, our country director hitting one grand slam after another, random break-outs of the national anthem while saluting the volunteer dressed as Captain America and the volunteer who was running bases while singing and playing his guitar. Good times.
I’d say another highlight of the WAIST weekend was the massive hair makeover that myself and one of my good friends in country, Kelly, undertook. My uncle is going through treatment for lymphoma for the fourth time and it breaks my heart to hear about the pain he is in. I decided that I wanted to do some type of fundraiser in light of his situation. I set up a page with the Lymphoma Research Foundation and set a goal with the promise that Kelly and I would shave our heads if the goal was met. Well, it was met within hours. The thing is I've always wanted to shave my head. It has been on my bucket list forever because I simply couldn't think of a more liberating feeling for a woman. It’s also quite hot living in Africa and my hair was long enough to donate to locks of love so it fulfilled many purposes! The actual cutting was quite an experience. In true Peace Corps style our tools used were two dull razor blades and a beard trimmer. We tied off our hair in sections and started sawing away. My hair is incredibly thick and curly so it was quite painful but oh so worth it. After a little clean-up the next day, I was left with the fuzzy head of an adolescent boy. I am shocked actually at the lack of panic I had throughout the whole endeavor. I cut all of my hair off, I now have a buzzed head and that’s the way it is. I can’t wait for my village to see it for the first time and also to see how it affects my life here in Senegal. Obviously I will be MUCH cooler but maybe people will mistake me for a man and I will get more respect? If all I get out of this is a decrease of marriage proposals, it will have been worth it.
Well, that basically catches you up on this crazy life I’m leading these days. I’m currently in Dakar on med hold due to some anxiety attacks I've had as of late. I think they are due to the uncertainty I have about my future here. I think I’m to the point where, no matter what, I want to finish my two years. I now just have to decide if moving perhaps to a bigger town with more work opportunities, but in turn more harassment, will truly be worth it. I will, of course, keep you all updated every step of the way.
Until next time,